Three steps to improve happiness and productivity

Happiness and productivity influence each other, and can be easily boosted by training our brains to see risk and uncertainty differently

When individuals are satisfied with the work they do and the environment that they operate in they are better placed to make more effective decisions quickly.

As a result, happiness influences productivity. Workplace design, job flexibility, job design, affiliation to various groups, mentoring, continuous development, and retirement and healthcare plans all address this.

However, productivity can also influence happiness. Deliberate practice to improve the quality and speed of decision-making can provide a sense of anticipation, empowerment and resilience that influences satisfaction at work. Here, individuals can take three small but meaningful steps:

1. Act consistently to pursue gains

Those who enjoy their time at work are more comfortable acting in uncertain volatile situations. In times of stress we tend to avoid risks. Losses have twice as powerful an effect on our brains as equivalent gain.

This means we are more likely to go out of our way to avoid potential loss than we are to pursue gains. Adapting our approach towards a bias for small consistent actions to pursue gains provides a sense of moving forward, which can prevent inertia or extreme aversion to risk as situations change.

2. Appreciate multiple interpretations of a situation

Just as we are hardwired to experience emotions that help us survive, we also experience emotions that help us to bond, give us pleasure and motivate us to repeat behaviours that provide such rewards.

Those who make conscious efforts to work through the emotion of fear, acknowledging that there are multiple outcomes and probabilities, are in a better position to be aware of the risks they are taking.

Repeating this behaviour allows the brain to strengthen a connection to advance skills/behaviours associated with working through fear. It also weakens connections of neurons that reinforce fear, eventually erasing them.

3. Tune your response to surprise

There are eight primary emotions. Fear, anger, disgust, shame and sadness can be labelled as survival emotions. They lead us to avoid stressful situations. Love and joy/excitement are attachment emotions.

They encourage us to repeat behaviours that lead to these emotions, which are associated with happiness. In between the survival and attachment spectrums sits surprise. It can flip our response from survival to attachment.

We can tap into this pivotal emotion by deliberately choosing to deal with new situations differently. We can choose to respond in a way that brings us closer to attachment emotions instead of survival emotions. This takes repeated effort.

Deliberate practice to improve comfort with making decisions without all relevant information, to take calculated risks, and to recover from setbacks quickly can improve our satisfaction at work, and in broader life. Deliberate practice involves trying new approaches, discovering how they improve outcomes and repeating those that do.

Organisations must continue to do their part to create conditions that are safe and fair for employees. Traditional engagement measures act as a proxy for this.

However, measures to capture the influence of deliberate practice to improve quality and speed of decision-making would provide a more rounded view of the relationship between the individual and organisation to improve productivity and happiness in the workplace.

This would shift the dialogue from engagement to wellbeing in a way that reflects the responsibility of both employees and employers to improve productivity and happiness at work.

Camelia Ram is a research associate at EDHEC Business School